Analog Revival Much Bigger Than Numbers Indicate
The author’s vintage Thorens TD-160
New turntable and vinyl sales are highest in decades, but real action is in pre-owned market
Quicker than you can say LP, the once almost given up for dead analog audio format of vinyl has come back and it is now bigger than ever. And while the format’s revival may be news to those outside of the audiophile and hipster communities, its popularity has been building over the past several years and is also much greater than what standard statistics can measure.
Industry figures from organizations such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Nielsen and the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) provide data for physical media (LPs) and turntables, but the one segment of the vinyl category that’s impossible to gauge is the thriving used vinyl and equipment markets.
Used Vinyl Is Where the Party’s At
Unlike the typical music buying practice of downloading a file or walking into a record store to pick up the latest new release, buying pre-owned vinyl is a communal experience.
No better example of this shared experience can be found than the used vinyl “festivals.” These events happen year round across the country and they draw thousands of people. Groups such as the Boston-area Deadwax Record and New England Record Collectors’ Club shows host several events per year and often they hold these events in local hotels across their respective regions. Nationally there are events such as the WFMU Record Fair in New York City which is annually held during the fall season, as well as the seasonal Austin Record Convention and the Allentown (Pa.) Record Show that draw a national audience of attendees who buy thousands of titles over the course of these events.
Many communities are also home to used records stores that deal with everything from mainstream used records, turntables and other equipment, to import titles, rarities and retro memorabilia.
The suburbs around Boston (where Electronic House is headquartered), for example, are home to Welfare Records in Haverhill, Mass.; That’s Entertainment in Worcester, Mass., The Nevermind Shop in Upton, Mass., and Déjà vu Records in Natick, Mass., to name a handful. Out on the West Coast, nationally renowned stores such as Grady’s Record Refuge in Ventura, Calif., and the Amoeba Music stores of Berkeley, San Francisco, and Hollywood, Calif., offer vinyl enthusiasts a wealth of resources to support a shopper’s desire to own anything from the German import version of Led Zeppelin “II,” to out-of-print releases like Ozzy Osbourne’s “Mr. Crowley Live” picture disc. Many of these stores also carry new releases from new and classic artists, including audiophile 180- and 200-gram pressings of favorites such as The Black Keys’ “El Camino,” Mile Davis’ “Kind of Blue” and Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” for example.
The Value Doesn’t End with Vinyl
Clearly one of the factors that has revived the analog audio market is the wealth of options for high-quality vinyl playback in your home audio system. From a new products perspective, respected manufacturers such as Audio Technica, Music Hall, Pro-Ject and Rega have produced a growing selection of turntables that are reasonably priced. But adding to the value of the analog market on a hardware side is the surging interest in classic turntables from companies such as Thorens, Acoustic Research (AR), Dual and Garrard.
The rise in popularity of these classic products mirrors the popularity of the vintage instrument market, where products from Gibson, Fender and Marshall commanding top dollar. Vintage turntables haven’t reached the zenith price of a 1959 Gibson Les Paul or 1961 Fender Stratocaster, but there are similarities in how these products are now becoming highly sought after LP playback solutions for young and old vinyl fans. Consider this as an example of the growing used turntable market—back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Thorens’ TD-160 sold for just over $200. Today this 40-something-year-old product sells in a range of $250 to $400 in their original conditions. Refurbished, the TD-160 goes from $600 to $1,200 depending on the level of restoration.
One company that specializes in the restoration of classic Thorens and AR products is the New Hampshire-based business Vinyl Nirvana. Owner Dave Archambault provides everything from tune-up and restoration services, to parts and fully restored Thorens and AR turntables.
Depending on his workload, Archambault can service an old turntable and ship it back within a few weeks to a month. Customers that want a fully restored Thorens or AR turntable can “custom order” what options they would like their turntables outfitted with and these options include custom wood plinths or after-market tonearms for example. Customers can expect Vinyl Nirvana to fulfill their “custom turntable” orders within eight to 10 weeks.
For those not willing to spend several hundred or a couple of thousand dollars on a 40-year-old turntable there are many used Dual and Garrard turntables that provide a nice alternative. These brands are still well respected today and they can be bought and serviced for a reasonable sum of money, while giving vinyl fans a vintage feel for this vintage audio format.
Regardless of whether it’s an old Thorens or Dual, another attractive element of a classic turntable is the amount upgrade options these products provide. There’s not much you can do to upgrade a CD player itself; but analog enthusiasts will often over time, in the holy grail quest for better performance, address everything from their turntables’ output cables to phono cartridges, tonearms, tonearm wiring and platters with upgrades/modifications they deem as worthwhile. Many turntable owners will also upgrade cosmetic aspects such as plinths and dust covers. These upgrades are comparable to what car enthusiasts do to their 1969 Camaro or Mustangs, and in many cases, these are upgrades that cannot be done on a modern product.
Not surprisingly, many enthusiasts will also swear that their classic ’tables will outperform expensive, modern turntables. Of course, it should also be noted that just like the vintage instrument market, those classic turntables may serve as a financial investment over the long haul too.
Analog Audio Here to Stay
At some point the vinyl category will plateau in terms of turntable and record sales, but considering how enthusiastically younger generations are adopting the format it will continue to be a popular medium for music listeners. This is important for fans of vinyl, because it ensures the format won’t go the way of the Dodo Bird and eight-track. And with plenty of options for classic turntables and record hunting, the used market may just be hitting its stride to fuel the format’s future.
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